Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – The American Dream: pop to the present at the British Museum from 9th March to 18th June 2017

Exhibition Review – The American Dream: pop to the present at the British Museum from 9th March to 18th June 2017


The British Museum presents the UK’s first major exhibition to feature modern and contemporary American printmaking .The American Dream: pop to the present exhibition will explore the remarkable creativity of a medium that flourished through some of the most turbulent periods in US history.

The exhibition will include important loans from the New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC as well as works drawn from the British Museum’s extensive collection of prints. The exhibition will feature over 200 works by 70 artists and chart the way that printmaking has influenced American art over the past six decades.

Some of America’s greatest artists in the medium are featured including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, Louise Bourgeois, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol. Many of the artists used printmaking to address some of the many social issues of the period such as race, AIDS, and feminism.

The start of the exhibition is dominated by Andy Warhol’s Marilyn which encapsulate the way that some of the strategies of mass advertising were used and distorted for artistic reasons.

A couple of Roy Lichtenstein prints illustrate the way that the comic strip format could be turned into works of art.

Other American printmakers like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine in the early 1960s took ordinary recognisable objects and transferred them into a series of works that looked at American life.  

The exhibition illustrates how printmaking changed considerably in the 1960s, the production, marketing and consumption of prints was tied to the growth of consumerism and influenced how the various messages were packaged. In post-war America, a new generation of artists saw printmaking as a vehicle to comment on certain aspects of the American dream and address many of the social issues of the day.  Some of this artists are shown in action on film showing the various processes to create the final products. Technological advances allowed artists to create prints in state-of-the-art workshops for the growing audience for prints which often provided some comment on modern American life.

Whilst some prints celebrated America’s dynamism and enterprise such as Rauschenberg’s Sky Garden from his Stoned Moon print series (marking the 1969 moon landings) other works concentrated on the dark underbelly of American society producing pieces on subjects such as President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the Vietnam War, the struggle for civil rights, the AIDS crisis and issues of gender and identity.

The Aids crisis provided the impetus for a series of artists including Keith Haring to produce a variety of printed matter.

African-American artists began to look to slavery has a way to suggest that the struggle for equality was far from over.

The confidence and assertiveness of America in the post-war boom years gradually gave way to the idea that the idealism of the American Dream was flawed when there were a large number of issues that needed to be addressed. These issues have not gone away and the election of Donald Trump could lead to a new renaissance of artistic creativity.

This fascinating exhibition provides plenty of evidence that American artists in the 1960s and later often turned their back on the more traditional media to explore the dynamic and expressive potential of printmaking to reach a wider audience and address wider social and political issues. Whilst now commonplace, the use of printmaking in this period was a radical artistic shift that led to a number of iconic images.

Our Video Review available here

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to book tickets, visit the British Museum website here

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